Roberta’s blind courage

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


(WE CONTINUE from last Saturday the over 20-year romance of the original Askals, aka Baguio Cinderellas, with the beautiful game of football that is finally catching the attention of this country of midgets hopelessly hooked to basketball.)

The multi-titled Cinderellas earned the sobriquet for their having to scrounge for funds just to reach playing venues of soccer football tournaments they were a cinch to win in close to two decades of glorious campaign.

After their victory in the 1995 National Ladies Cup in Sta. Cruz Laguna, they never heard again of Roberta Sandejas, the 16-year-old from La Salle High School who gave them the golden goal in overtime in that final against Davao. They had recruited her to complete the 11-member line-up for the championship game.

Until one morning, when a front-page feature item appeared in The Philippine Star. The boxed story was headlined “Roberta’s blind courage”. Somebody had thrown acid on Roberta’s face, disfiguring and rendering her blind. She was undergoing a series of skin-graft surgery, even as she expressed optimism about her eyesight being restored – and, perhaps, hope that she would be able to play football again.

After the hand wringing, nail biting, eye welling, the girls knocked on doors, collecting empty bottles and old newspapers they converted to cash at the junkshop. At Christmastime, they came up with a little over P20,000 which they asked Peewee Agustin and me to deliver to the girl’s home in Paranaque. Roberta’s brother and sister told us their mother had brought her to the United States for a series of tests and surgeries. The siblings phoned their father, who dropped his work and rushed home to meet us.

Somebody from La Salle told us later that Roberta had married and later passed away. A check on the internet somehow confirmed the transition.

“We are deeply saddened to report the death in the early morning of Sunday, November 7, of Roberta Sandejas Shroyer, who volunteered for many months at the National Center before joining the national staff in May of 2004,” said a news item posted on Braille Monitor. “She was born in Manila, Philippines, where in high school and college she was a talented soccer player.

“After being badly injured and blinded in a tragic incident in her home, she left Manila and moved to Baltimore, where she graduated from the rehabilitation program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). There she met her future husband, Justin Shroyer. Before recently requesting to be assigned the job his wife had done. Mr. Shroyer worked in the Materials Center.

“We enjoyed Mrs. Shroyer’s easy laugh and great sense of humor, her excellent cooking at various chapter functions, her enthusiastic participation in our many activities, and her positive outlook in life.”

With the story is her photo, her eyes covered by dark glasses, her face bearing the scars of her ordeal. Another photo of her in black and white before the tragedy sent memory swirling back to that image in September (her birth month), 16 years ago, of the Cinderellas sweeping the comely 16-year old off her feet, raising her up their shoulders and punching the air in triumph in that Cup in Laguna.

Some of the girls eventually faded out to pursue careers, - sisters Monique and Julie Jacinto to vegetable trading, goalie Luz Pacubas to medical technology practice, her sister Mian and Virgie Tibaldo Bungay to business, Cheng Mendoza to teaching. Sisters Anna and Vangie Umoc played for a while with the sepak takraw national team. Some fell in love, married but continued playing in tournaments, bringing along their babies to be watched by the second or third-generation drafts and those who drove them to the venues.

To them, football is art, winning almost secondary to the thrill of playing. Instead of blasting from a distance, they would shepherd the ball - as in a slalom – as close to the net as possible before tipping it in. It was a practice too agonizing for their handful of fans to watch. More often than not, they would come home with the MVP and Fair Play awards to add to the team title.

They take wins almost as a matter of course, for, almost always, there’s not much with which to celebrate a victory with. Driving them home from a seven-a-side victory in Alabang, Randall Dampac of the Benguet Electric Cooperative just couldn’t take it. He stopped beside Jollibee in Tarlac, counted what he had, woke the sleeping girls and announced he was treating them to supper.

Younger recruits the likes of Maggie Pakipac and Judith Doctolero were more open in ribbing Peewee, melting his heart soon enough for him to stop beside the first ice cream parlor along the way.

When they could, the girls would ask pioneer striker Grace Carrera to bake a cake to spice up their picnic at the Busol watershed where they plant pine seedling to celebrate their latest triumph.

At last summer’s end, the Cinderella magic was still there. Still, the girls had to dig deep into the calming effect fo experienced to pull off a dramatic victory at the expense of Brent School’s young and promising squad at the Frist National Summer Football Tournament of the University of Pangasinan in Lingayen town.

The Cinderellas tied Brent, 2-2-, but still ruled the seven-a-side on a three-goals-for edge over the high school squad. The feat came on the heels of their ruling the Canteen Cup of the Philippine Military Academy last Feb. 16.(e-mail: mondaxbench@yashoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on July 09, 2014.

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